"On time" vs. "In time": What's the difference? (includes practice questions)
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Do you always arrive on time for work, or do you sometimes arrive late? If you're in school, do you always arrive on time for class? What about your last doctor's or dentist's appointment? Were you on time for it? What about your last job interview?
When do we use "on time"?
When you arrive on time for something, you arrive on schedule--at the time you are expected to arrive. In short, you arrive at the scheduled time. If you are late for something, you are not on time. As mentioned above, people can be late or on time for scheduled events, such as the beginning of a work day, a class, a doctor's appointment, a date with a friend, or anything that has a set schedule or agreed-upon time. Buses, trains, planes, and other modes of public transportation can also be or run on time.
Note the following examples:
"Jim is always late for work. He's never on time."
"The bus is usually on time, but today it's late."
"I arrived on time, but where were you? We said we would meet at 5:30."
"Their flight is delayed and won't be leaving on time."
"Hey, Denise. Just texting to let you know I won't be there on time. I'll be about 10-15 minutes late."
"Your appointment is tomorrow at 8:30am. Please arrive on time."
"Marta is bad at organizing her time. Don't expect her to be on time for anything."
"Why weren't you on time this morning?" "Sorry, traffic was really bad."
"Is the train running on time today?" "Yeah. It should be here in 10 minutes."
"Do you think he's going to be on time today?" "Not a chance. He texted me and told me he woke up late this morning."
What about "in time"?
If you are in time for something, you are sufficiently early, or you arrive just before or at the time something happens. You can arrive in time for a scheduled event, for an important part of an event or process, or for something unexpected or unplanned.
If you do or finish something "just in time," you do or finish it just before or when it is needed. This is also the case if you arrive somewhere "just in time"--you arrive at an important moment, or at a moment you are needed. You can be, arrive, or make it in time for something or to do something.
Note the following examples:
"I missed the majority of the game, but I arrived in time to see the winning goal."
"I need to leave for a few minutes, but I should be back in time for dessert."
"Debbie! You've arrived just in time. We need your help."
A: "Hey, sorry I'm late. Did I miss the speech?"
B: "No, you're just in time. She's about to start."
"We're not going to make it in time for the beginning of the ceremony. Could you drive faster?"
"Stephen! You're here just in time. We need someone to settle an argument. Who was a better soccer player: Pele or Maradona?"
"We've finished cleaning just in time. The guests are arriving in 5 minutes."
"You're just in time. Mika was just about to tell us about her new boyfriend."
"If you leave the house now, you can still make it in time for the start of the concert."
"Did we miss the free drinks?" "Yeah, sorry, you didn't make it in time. All of the free drinks were given away half an hour ago."
As you can see, you can make it on time or in time for something. This means you arrive on time or in time for something.
Isn't there another usage for "in time"?
Yes. "In time" can also mean "over the course or passage of time," or "after some time has passed." Note the examples:
"I know things are hard right now, but in time, they will improve."
"In time, people reveal their true natures."
"You might not understand why I'm doing this now, but in time, I think you will."
"The garden doesn't look great now, but in time, I expect it to flourish."
"All things are revealed in time."
Are these phrases clearer for you now? I hope so! Both "on time" and "in time" are covered in my book, 300 Practical English Words & Phrases.
To help you practice using these phrases, complete the following sentences with your own ideas:
I need to be on time for...
I'll never make it in time for...
Did you arrive on time for...?
They didn't make it in time for...
In time, you will learn that...
Please arrive on time to...
My friend is never on time for...
If you want to make sure you're on time, you should...
We should leave now if we want to make it in time for...
Max! You're just in time for...
Write your answers in the comments, and let me know if you have any questions. I wish you success in your studies.